This is a question in every interview I do so I’m going to share what I think, knowing what I know, hearing what I hear, having gone through the deep and dark hells I’ve gone through in my own life including my own experience with divorce, as well as now being able to live the dream that I never thought possible. Now life has taken me full circle to where I now stand beside husbands and wives who want to fight for their marriage instead of each other. I invite them to open their eyes and take their hands off their ears, and finally see and hear what’s been there all along: Love.
Of course, this is not a complete list by any means, however, I thought to share my own thoughts on this question.
So why do I think marriage fails?
1. COMMUNICATION – I think this is the most common challenge couples have. No matter what a couple is dealing with, it always comes back to their ability to communicate and listen without interrupting or being triggered, to understand with empathy, and not take things personally when emotions run high. Intimacy and connection cannot grow if trust and friendship aren’t at the foundation of the relationship. But it’s not our fault: We were never taught by society or often our parents how to communicate to connect, understand, and empathize. Instead, we were taught to react, justify, defend, judge, interrupt, etc…. you get the drift. It is a skill that was not emphasized to us as children and so we pick up everyone else’s bad habits and behaviours.
2. EXPECTATIONS – We often feel disappointed, resentful, alone, and frustrated when our expectations of how people should behave aren’t met. If we are hard on ourselves, these include self-proclaimed people-pleasers and perfectionists, then chances are that we will expect the same from other people, but here’s the issue. Oftentimes, that bar is so high, that we set ourselves up, and the people we care about, for failure. We then often make meaning of it which often is “I’m not good enough. I can’t do anything right.” our own need for safety and acceptance is thwarted and people start to pull away.
3. EGO AND PRIDE – This is about our own survival and defense mechanisms when we experience a perceived threat. This often puts us into “Fight, flight, or freeze” mode and prevents us from actually being present with people. Our need to be right, and make others wrong is a big one. No one wants to “look bad” and so we will generate stories and justifications for why we behave the way we do. Most of us were conditioned to control and dominate other people so that we don’t get hurt. Many of us, even though we know we aren’t acting according to our values, refuse to admit when we behave badly. This is one that resonates with me a lot. When I was a kid, our family would argue, go to our respective rooms after a blow-up, but then come back and act as though nothing happened. It wasn’t until I got married to my loving husband did I learn the power of vulnerability and owning our emotions and bad behaviours in order to create forgiveness and compassion for others.
4. RESPONSIBILITY – Consider the definition: THE ABILITY TO RESPOND. It is not about accepting/admitting blame or fault. It is about owning your own power as well as your inability to use it wisely by giving it away. Most people get triggered when I tell people that this is the secret sauce to having more power, freedom, and peace in life. Everything thinks they are being responsible, however, most of us are unable to admit this level of honesty and humility, usually due to our ego and pride. Most of us are willing to take responsibility, but then there’s a “BUT” which indicates that it actually hasn’t been achieved. If blaming, justifying, making excuses, and complaining are in your thoughts or language, then this is an indication that you are disempowered and stuck in ‘Victim Mode’. This is a hard one for people to wrap their heads around, which is why so many couples cannot move forward past old emotional wounds because responsibility hasn’t been established.
5. FORGIVENESS – I love talking about forgiveness because most people don’t actually understand what it truly is, hence why so many of us struggle with guilt, shame, blame, and regret. If forgiveness is an area that you are unable to achieve with your partner, the first place to look is at yourself, and ask yourself if there’s anything you need to forgive yourself for. If you are unable to give that grace to yourself, how do you expect to give to others? (I have another blog on this topic if you want to know more).
6. INFLUENCE AND CHILDHOOD – Another reason why marriages fail is that we are the product of our own upbringing, and if our childhood was filled with yelling, emotional abuse, neglect, disrespect, etc. then we will just repeat what we know, although, in our adult mind, we know that we witnessed bad behaviours such as stone-walling, gaslighting, and other types of manipulation and defense mechanisms, we will often repeat it because it’s familiar. This is why it is so important to be self-aware, and to practice self-care and self-compassion, and forgiveness. If we do not resolve or come to terms with the childhood traumas and memories that haunt us, they will keep coming back until the lesson is learned. This is why I love coaching and doing mindset work. It provides clarity, choice, and freedom from our emotions and fears so that we can take new actions and be responsible for how we show up, and the impact on others.
7. CREATING A SAFE SPACE – Essentially this is about trust and communication and feeling safe enough to be vulnerable with your thoughts, fears, and emotions. It’s hard enough to admit to another person that we feel out of control, scared, disappointed, frustrated, worried, stressed, etc. It often makes us feel like we are weak if we admit what’s really going on with us. That is why a safe space is so important. Creating a safe space is about compassion, no judgment, and most of all, listening without trying to fix or change the other person. Oftentimes we resist other people’s emotions because we often take it personally, and often feel like we are being blamed instead of just ‘getting’ that the other person is upset and there’s nothing wrong. It’s okay to be emotional or upset. It is how we deal with these emotions or feel guilt for feeling the way we feel. The biggest mistake that I see couples make is that their partner will come to them with a very touchy subject or emotional experience, and instead of loving and supporting them through that experience, they make them feel bad or invalidate their feelings with “You’re being too sensitive.” or “Why is that my problem?” or “What’s wrong with you?”. Statements like these make us feel small and misunderstood, sending us further into the darkness of our own fears and ego. You’re supposed to be best friends. Is that how you would talk to a best friend, child, or coworker? Of course not!
8. BOUNDARIES – when I meet with couples, a word that comes up a lot in their list of challenges is lack of respect. However, most couples don’t realize that it must go both ways. I often meet people who demand respect, however, are unable to exemplify this to their partner. To me, respect is about clear communication around expectations, values, beliefs, integrity, and acceptance. Many people know their own boundaries, but have difficulty expressing them in a non-defensive way. It is about owning and expressing your needs, but also acknowledging when the actual issue is with our own ability to maintain the boundaries, not only for others but ourselves. Instead of being powerful people, we become dominating, controlling, and easily offended. In addition to setting boundaries using effective communication skills, creating agreements with people in your life is just as important. Although it is important to express what your boundaries are, there needs to be an agreement made in order to
9. RESENTMENT – Many couples often lose their connection because of the inability to forgive each other. Again, we have expectations of another, and when they disappoint us, resentment can often follow. We punish our partners for something they did in a moment in time, over and over again until they can’t take it anymore. Hoping they feel guilt and shame. IF they don’t seem too remorseful, then you need to torture them more. We start to generate fearful thoughts like, “They don’t care. They don’t love me. They should have….. I would do it for them, why can’t they do it for me?” and so on and so on. We make up stories that aren’t true, and then use those made-up stories as ammunition to behave in a certain way based on a belief that isn’t even grounded in reality. We act like we are perfect and often judge others for their flaws and ignorance. I often talk about ‘Malice vs. Mindlessness’. I’d like to think that if we are married to someone, we would not intentionally try to upset or hurt them, except when we are feeling spiteful which is more resentment. What is required here is forgiveness.
10. FORGIVENESS – to me, this is sooo important, and yet many people don’t actually understand what forgiveness is/isn’t, and refuse to exercise it because they think it’s something else. Often forgiveness means that we are admitting we are at fault, or that we are making the other person’s actions okay, but that simply isn’t accurate. It also isn’t just apologizing or asking for an apology. It is so much deeper than that. Resentment can often be eliminated if we just asked for forgiveness from a humble and genuine place, but our ego and pride will often keep us from doing so. Forgiveness isn’t about the other person. It’s about finding personal freedom from an emotional prison that we put ourselves in. (Please visit my other blog for more details on this topic).
11. WORTHINESS – This is an interesting one. In a nutshell, when we don’t love ourselves, it’s easy to focus on other people’s inadequacies. It’s also very easy to put the responsibility of happiness and self-worth on other people, and when they are unable to fill that void for us, we get upset at them even though it isn’t their job to make you happy. If we cannot love and accept ourselves, how can we love and accept our partner? When we don’t feel worthy, we keep everyone who loves us at arm’s length and might even try to sabotage their attempt at loving us when we don’t love ourselves. We look to other people to validate us: our boss, our partner, our kids, our parents, etc. And when they don’t, or worse, they criticize us, we take it personally and feel that they are rejecting us. No one can make you feel worthy except yourself so instead of putting the responsibility on everyone else, consider this an inside job.
12. PRIORITIES – We are all busy people. We live in a go-go world where we have many priorities. Long work days, soccer and ballet practice, dinner, house cleaning, bills, exercise, friends, family… the list goes on and on. We make money, work, TV, porn, alcohol, drugs, chores, and even kids more important than our partners, and they feel abandoned, betrayed, and unloved. Oftentimes we become reactive to our lives and it starts to control us instead of the other way around. It is important to know your values and priorities, and when the people you love make mention that they aren’t feeling important, you need to pay attention. Get curious. Find out how they are feeling and what you can do to work together to find a solution. One of the pitfalls that I see people make is making money more important than spending quality time with their loved ones, especially when there’s tension present. Yes, it’s important to put food on the table, but most of us work like crazy people because it’s safe, comfortable, and sometimes easier than dealing with what’s not working at home. Eventually, you start to live separate lives and become roommates instead of lovers and best friends.
Here are a few more I thought to add to the list:
13. COMPASSION: We’ve created this “Suck it up” culture that kills off intimacy, trust, and vulnerability
14. ACCEPTANCE: We try to fix and change each other into someone they’re not
15. EFFORT: We stop being creative, thoughtful, caring, and generous with our partners. We don’t make the effort to maintain the spark, impress, court
16. FEAR: We live in fear more than we live in love. We focus on the problem rather than the solution.
17. APPRECIATION: We take things for granted. Just because we expect it, we stop appreciating them. We only focus on the mistakes rather than the effort or intention.
18: PARTNERSHIP: We try to do life on our own. We forget that we are on the same team and should be working together for a common goal.
19. FUN AND PLAYFULNESS: To me, this is so important. Life can get so serious at times, and having the freedom to be silly, and laugh at our mistakes is so critical. How can you bring more fun into every area of life, especially your relationship?
… okay that’s all for now. Whew! And it’s not even half done! I will update this list later in the future but those are my initial thoughts…
If you would like to know how to achieve these with your partner, please schedule a call with me!